Grudging acceptance of Obama improvement
Even here - at the local Mitt Romney campaign headquarters in the city of Independence, Ohio - there was a grudging acknowledge that Barack Obama had delivered a forceful performance.
But this time it was the Republicans' turn to accused the president of playing fast and loose with fact and figures over his tenure in office, an accusation thrown at Mitt Romney following the last TV debate.
As the debate got underway, the atmosphere in the campaign room - festooned with signs such as “Cleveland rocks for Romney” and a cardboard cut-out of Mitt Romney - was silent and tense.
The stakes for the local election team were high. Mr Romney’s commanding performance in the last debate injected new life and self-belief into the campaign. Suddenly, the daily rounds of door-knocks, phone calls and voter-registration drives in this affluent suburb seemed easier than before.
But right from the opening bell last night, it was clear to supporters that this would be a different kind of contest. In numerous testy exchanges, both candidates abandoned their stools and squared up like tense boxers, tangling over issues such as energy, immigration, job creation, tax cuts and Libya.
Mr Romney forceful questioning of the president’s economic record drew claps and shouts of support from the volunteers.
“Let’s look at your policies instead of your rhetoric,” Mr Romney said, as the small audience here egged him on.
There were also moments of incredulity among the campaign team as Mr Obama made bold claims, such as insisting the price of gas had increased significantly over his four years in office because the price was depressed as a result of the economic crisis in 2008.
“Oh my God, is he for real?” one volunteer yelled at the television.
But, overall, Mr Romney seemed to fail to match the dominance of his first debate, seeming annoyed at Mr Obama’s regular interruptions. He also tended to launch into a recitation of his five-point jobs plan and other issues such as cracking down on China.
The response among most Republicans afterwards was that this was a much tighter fight. While most agreed that the headlines would favour Mr Obama, few felt it would shift the election off-course.
“I could see Obama got back some of his wind and his speed," said Mark George (55) a lawyer and volunteer with the Romney campaign. "As an American, I had felt sorry for Obama. It had made the United States look bad: here’s a leader of the country who couldn’t even defend himself... At least I was happy to see he was trying to sound intelligent."
He added: “I felt confident that Romney pointed out more statistical issues that were not successful in these past four years for Obama. I just don’t think Obama did enough... It’s not acceptable to blame others for not getting things done.”
Joe Giovinale (71) a retiree, felt no one had the upper-hand in the debate. “One had some points, so did the other. Though, Obama kept saying, ‘that’s not true’. You can't just say that - you need to back it up with evidence.”
His wife, Gardana Giovinale (71) felt that Mr Romney had been treated unfairly in the debate itself. “He wasn’t given a fair chance to respond, whereas the president did," she said. "I don’t think the president gave exact facts. He was dodging issues and not answering questions.”